Profiling Virat Kohli for London-based The Times newspaper, former England skipper Mike Atherton recalled a story related by Ed Smith, England cricketer-turned-sportswriter who had worked as consultant for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) during the 2016 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
‘When Kohli found out that his body-fat percentage was nine per cent, he immediately countered that Novak Djokovic was a percentage and half lower. He measures himself against other athletes, rather than cricketers. He trains obsessively and, even in a tournament like the IPL, where the late nights mean it is easy to slip into bad habits, eats and drinks healthily with the zeal of a convert.’
Smith, who has worked with many top international sportspeople, said of Kohli in his article in The Cricket Monthly titled 'Batting 3.0': “Indeed, of all the athletes I have been around - first as a player, then as a professional observer - Kohli's investment in success is the greatest, except for maybe Djokovic. But it's a close call.”
Smith’s appreciation of Kohli’s intense passion and hunger for success was an endorsement of seasoned journalist Vijay Lokapally’s observation. The latter has been keenly following the evolution of Kohli from his pre-teen years to the outstanding world-class batsman that he is today, and told me that the title of his new book Driven epitomised Kohli and his fantastic quest for perfection.
He called Kohli’s passion for the game “an obsession” and through the 221 pages of the delightful book throws up a number of anecdotes which give a terrific insight into the “making of Kohli.”
“The book is not a biography. On the other hand it connects the dots to show the progress of the boy from an aspiring cricketer to a world-class batsman. I believe I have presented a true picture, and was doubly pleased when two days before he launched the book, Virat, after reading it, said: ‘Sir, this (the book) is me.’
Based out of New Delhi, Lokapally has crisscrossed the cricketing world while covering the game for his employers, The Hindu. In the process he has watched from close quarters a number of cricketers, particularly those from Delhi.
In Driven, he recounts how Kohli, son of a lawyer, grew up in west Delhi where the jostling for space and recognition fostered a fiercely competitive culture. This neighbourhood threw up a number of excellent, combative cricketers — Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ashish Nehra, Shikhar Dhawan and Ishant Sharma, besides of course Kohli.
None of them, barring Gambhir, had good financial support to start with. But it was a move by another Test cricketer from a relatively well-off family, Atul Wassan that was to benefit Kohli.
Wassan played for Sonnet Club, which had a reputation for promoting boys from non-elite backgrounds. Some of them went on to play for Delhi. Wassan, after he quit playing, helped his club mate and off-spin bowler Raj Kumar set up a coaching clinic, the West Delhi Cricket Academy where a nine-year-old Virat enrolled.
Eight years later, Wassan — as chairman of Delhi senior selection committee — picked Virat to make his Ranji Trophy debut.
The author, who said Kohli was misunderstood right through his career, loved his obsession with getting involved in everything happening on the field and had quite a few anecdotes to narrate. However, he identified as special a Ranji Trophy match involving Delhi and Karnataka at the Feroze Shah Kotla which saw Kohli the boy turn into a man.
Karnataka had made 446 and reduced Delhi to 103 for 5 at the end of the day’s play. Virat was batting on 40. A tired Kohli retreated to his house after the day’s play. That night his father passed away and he was in extreme distress through the night and at dawn. His family realised that he needed to take his mind off the tragedy and coaxed him to go and continue the match.
The teenager sought the advice of his coach Raj Kumar who was away in Sydney with the WDCA. The stunned coach related how Virat’s father, when he had entrusted him, told him on the first day of coaching that he’d be coach and father figure to Virat. Ever since, they had struck a special bond. The coach now advised the grieving Virat to go ahead and play the match.
Delhi skipper Mithun Manhas who reached the ground at 7.30 am that day, was alarmed to see Virat sitting in the corridor with his head in his hands. When told that he had lost his dad, Manhas said he did not know how to react.
“I looked around to see if there was someone to comfort the boy. But there was none,” said Manhas.
He was further taken aback when Virat insisted that he’d play the match. He went on to make a 90 that helped the team draw the tie.
Lokapally revealed that he sat by the young Virat’s side in the dressing room as soon as he was dismissed. “My heart went out to him. He was just a kid breaking into First-Class cricket and I felt for him and his loss. At tea break, Karnataka coach Venkatesh Prasad came into the Delhi dressing room and asked me if the Karnataka players could also express their condolences. Venky, in fact, blessed him.”
Another anecdote is that of Kohli gifting his coach Raj Kumar with a Skoda Rapid car on 5 September, celebrated as Teachers’ Day. His brother drove the car to the coach’s house early in the morning, handed over the car keys and pulled out his mobile to call Virat, who was away on a photo shoot in the United States.
He handed over the phone to a speechless coach as Virat wished him a happy Teacher’s Day.
It was as fine a gesture you’d expect from a very fine cricketer, and it is anecdotes such as these that make Lokapally’s book on a very special cricketer particularly memorable.
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 10:41:58 IST